Merry Makers Connection

Janet  Macfarlane…The Jenolan, Wilson  Connection

written by Melanie Coid -July 2010 

The story below was written at the request of and for the Jenolan Caves Historical & Preservation Society (JCH&PS)  to be published in their newsletter The Binoomea, August 2010 edition. You can find back issues of the Binoomea on their website at  

A visit to Jenolan Caves can reveal rare, wondrous and truly beautifully inspiring things, like the black swans that have recently reappeared on the Blue Lake. For those of you who are fortunate enough to know Janet Macfarlane you will know, that like the black swans she too is truly inspirational and a rare sighting at Jenolan these days. Janet is a Trustee and Life Member of the Jenolan Caves Historical & Preservation Society (JCH&PS) and the great granddaughter of Jeremiah Wilson, as most of you will know he was appointed the first official keeper of the caves in 1866 and remained in that role until 1896 when he became known as Official Explorer until his retirement in 1900. He and his wife Lucinda built the first Caves House which was later destroyed by fire. In the early 1950’s Janet began visiting Jenolan as a small child with her father Wal Cummings and the family would stay in Caves House. In 1970 as a young woman and soon to be new Mum, Janet returned to Jenolan with her then husband David Bryant for a holiday (David was once president of JCH&PS).

On this holiday they encountered Ron Newbould and his ‘brew’. Over the next decade Janet and family returned to Jenolan numerous times. On one occasion Ron offered them the use of his caravan. The bitter cold saw them staying at Caves House on any future visits. Janet recounts when staying at Caves House she would request a room near the fire escape stairs making a late night return after sampling Ron’s latest ‘brew’ less noticeable. In the following years Janet formed firm associations with many Jenolan guides and personalities. And in 1973 when her Aunt Lou (yes a Lucinda) passed away and the family home Lucindaville in Cook Rd Centennial Park was sold. It was Janet who kindly arranged for a display cabinet filled with intricate and lustrous Jenolan calcite crystal owned by the Cummings family to be loaned to JCH&PS. This cabinet now stands in the foyer of Caves House for all to behold. These fallen calcite crystals were rescued and preserved by her grandfather James Cummings as he went about his work of lighting the caves with Lt Col. Cracknell. The brass plaque upon the cabinet reads “On loan to JCH&PS from the family of James and Margaretta Cummings”.  The cabinet filled with its precious cargo of calcite crystals arrived at Jenolan in the back of Warren Targett’s van surrounded by mattresses.

Janet Macfarlane is the administrator and driving force behind the Merry Makers   a long running dance troupe for people with disabilities. Every Saturday afternoon you will find her in the same community hall in St Ives orchestrating dance session. Her daughter Lucinda Bryant, who is Artistic Director choreographs and teaches dance to the Merries. In 2008 the Merry Makers story was told on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope. After that story went to air Janet was inundated with emails and phone requests from parents and carers seeking a dance place for a loved one with a disability. With funding from the Sydney Community Foundation Janet and her daughter Lucinda conducted their second master class at Hornsby RSL, which I attended. Janet was the master of ceremonies on that day and in her usual manner addressed a full house with poise and grace as the room rippled with anticipation. The Merries took to the stage and a hushed silence fell over the audience. As they danced the Merries weaved their magic as they sprinkled hope amongst the audience. Janet organised other master classes all over the country from which new dance groups formed bringing hope and opportunity to others. These groups include Dance Oolites Inc. in the Lower Blue Mountains (of which I am the President & Artistic Director), Happy Feat (Townsville), Dance Chance (Lower North shore), Dance Ability Australia, Bright Stars (Tasmania) and Dancing Hearts Studio (Newcastle).

The Merry Makers are about to embark on a new adventure. In September 2010 they are going to Disneyland to dance, a huge achievement. Janet is making all necessary arrangements for 60 Merry Makers and 78 carers to travel and shine in Disneyland. For over 20 years Janet has worked tirelessly for the Merry Makers and people with disabilities, generously giving her time, sharing her knowledge and administrative skills with others.

Janet and her husband Les Macfarlane were able to attend the retirement dinner for John Callaghan, where they were able to reminisce and catch up with many Jenolan friends. They are hoping to attend the upcoming Jenolan Food & Jazz Festival on the weekend of the 30th October 2010 and we look forward to catching up with them too. So when you are at a Saturday night JCH&PS meeting and you hear the apology from Janet Macfarlane, remember that while she would dearly love to be with her Jenolan family she is spreading inspiration and hope amongst many other community members.